You have decided to deploy a content management system? How do you select a system? This is the subject of my today's post.
The process of selecting a content management system (CMS) centers on the list of requirements you users have for the system, then vendor presentations, and some sort of selection committee. The process contains the following steps:
- create a high-level overview of the CMS project and your users requirements;
- review the market for the products that seem to fit your project and your users requirements;
- make the first cut from the list of candidates, selecting those that seem worth really pursuing;
- send a Request for Proposal (RFP) to those who make the first cut;
- select a small number of finalists by scoring the RFP responses and any follow-up questions that you ask;
- have technical drill-down meetings and check references from each of the finalists;
- have a presentation from the remaining candidates;
- make a final decision by combining the scores for the references and presentations with those for the RRP.
To start the selection process, it is useful to create a short project overview that you can include in early correspondence with the vendors. The overview also should orient your selection committee to the major points toward which you are aiming.
To create the overview, take the high points from your project mandate, requirements, and logical analysis. Include in the overview the short description of features that your product should have to make it successful in meeting your needs. Use this overview to orient all involved parties to the key selection criteria and also to provide them with an introduction to the fuller analysis you might have created.
Review the Market
Perform a broad overview of the CMS market looking for products that address your general needs. Here are few tips to conduct your research:
Get recommendations: try sending your overview via email to anyone you can think of who may have an opinion. The recommendations would give you a place to start and a set of products to which you can compare the ones that you find yourself.
Keep your analysis close at hand: have your requirements, logical design, and the selection criteria that you think are most important. Look at them often as you do your search.
Develop a short set of questions that you ask at each web site that you visit: this helps you stay on task and give an even, standard treatment to each product.
Consider core products versus peripherals: develop a quick eye for products that do not have enough core content management functionality to qualify for your search.
Keep a list of your special needs: this list should go beyond standard content management concerns, for example special marketing needs, unusual publications, particular integration, etc. You may come across products that do not address all your needs, but try to find a product that addresses at least some of them. You may find these products helpful later on, either as add-ons to the system that your purchase or as good examples of how a particular need can be met.
Document your search: track down the url of the web site, so you could return to it later.
Do not spend too much time on this process: if in doubt, include a product on your list, you can remove it later.
Start a file: both a physical and a computer file on each product. You eventually will accumulate a lot of material on the ones that make it to the end of the process.
Making the First Cut
Limit your list from the large number of products that have something to do with content management to few that seem to address your particular needs and budget. If you have time, you can contact each company and request a complete marketing package. Be sure to request white papers, case studies, demos, industry analysis, and pricing sheets. In addition, go back to each site and collect as much relevant information as you can about each candidate. Do not be afraid to dismiss those candidates who do not meet your requirements.
The core of the first cut is a preliminary set of evaluation criteria, usually a spreadsheet. Apply your selection criteria to this list of candidates. Involve your selection committee in this process. Score each candidate product using all the resources that you have. Do not do complete and exhaustive analysis especially with your selection committee. Just have them quickly review your list.
The first cut should include 5 to 10 candidates.
Now it is the time to get serious. Invite these candidates to present a demo of their product. Do not require preparation of your team or the vendor. Ask for the standard presentation. At the next meeting you can get down to details if necessary. It gives a vendor the opportunity to present their product. Save your probing questions and became immersed in the product as you can. Be positive and try to understand each product positive and negative features.
The vendor tries to qualify you as a prospect as much as you are trying to qualify the company. Try to answer vendor's questions as openly as possible and present your requirements and what you are want to accomplish. Learn the names of the people inside the product organization that you can contact directly for specific information.
Request For Proposal (RFP)
Create the complete selection criteria and turn it into Request For Proposal (RFP). Most likely it would be a spreadsheet that lists all the questions you need answered in order to arrive at a list of finalists.
Plant to have follow-up meetings with candidates that made RFP cut. Before you schedule these meetings, see if you can eliminate any candidates due to lack of response or unacceptable response or poor performance on RFP. In these meetings, go over questions. In the first pass, focus on the issues that candidates did particularly well or poorly in their RFP responses. Make the list of the weak points and determine if these points disqualify these candidates. If you still have questions, ask the vendor to find the right person to answer some specific questions. Use emails, phone, and on-site meetings to move each question to a final score.
With a small list of finalists you can get down to details. Do a most thorough job of analyzing the RFP and follow-up questions from the finalists and schedule one or more meetings where your technical experts (IT) and vendors' technical experts gather to envision how the system would work and what the relationship is going to be between you and the vendor.
You may also want to schedule additional demos of the product. These discussions should result in a clear idea of how your team would accomplish different task with different systems. Share your full list of requirements with the vendors. Vendors would bring their development or professional services groups who would contribute to the process. Try to ask vendors to bring actual people to these meetings who would be assigned to your project.
Try to contact some companies who use these products. Vendors should be able to help you to identify these companies. But do not leave this process entirely up to vendors. Check the web, check logos on the vendor's site, check conferences, analysts' reports, etc. You need information to help you decide whether a specific product is right for you and whether vendors would deliver what they promised.
By now you are very close to a decision or you may have a clear leader or you may have decided who you want to work with. But there is no contract yet, only a lot of discussions. You also may have a list of issues that have never been resolved. And you may have people who have the authority to sign the purchase order. You could combine all these needs into a final vendor presentation. It would have the following purposes:
- final resolution or any outstanding problems;
- full discussion of the terms of the agreement;
- executive review of the vendor company;
- cost estimate.
It is not the meeting to demo the product. It is a meeting to make the final determination whether you want to work together with this company.
Making the Final Call
Now you should be ready to make your final decision. You should have all the information you need. You should also have a numerical winner in the RFP scores as well as project costs. In addition, you have one or more subjective assessments from our team and sponsors. Try to drive for consensus in your selection committee. Create an objective scoring method for the subjective factors. Escalate the decision to someone who can make and enforce this decision. Provide the decision maker with all the information that you have collected.
If you followed this process, you will have succeeded in selecting a system that meets your needs!